What do Ginny Rometty, Richard Branson and Walt Disney have in common? Among other attributes, such as business accumen, of course, they all engage or engage in participative leadership. Also known as democratic leadership, this style of spearheading organizations’ efforts involves not just engaging with managers but involving the whole team. What does it entail, and how does it function in the real world? Let’s take a closer look.
The participative leadership style means involving employees in organizational decision-making. Rather than putting all the power in the hands of one or a few top leaders, employees at different levels are welcome to offer input and help determine the next course of action for a business.
Participative leadership also differs from supportive leadership, in which employees are tasked with carrying out the plans and goals of the organization but are not necessarily invited to fully participate in the decision-making process.
There are some niches within the participative style, such as consultative leadership. This is not a fully democratic process; the manager or leader will solicit feedback and suggestions from employees, but the final decision rests in her hands.
This style of leadership assumes that when people are part of the decision-making process, they will be more engaged in their work and produce better results (we’ll delve into more of the benefits below). While every organization and leadership team is unique, some common ways this method is enforced include:
Management may initiate conversations that involve specific decisions, such as a branding strategy. During these conversations, the leader will ask for input from employees at different levels, and team members will offer ideas and discuss potential solutions and challenges as a group.
A strong participative leader will not only lead discussions empower others, but she will also motivate her team to work together to make decisions and carry out plans accordingly. Collaboration, after all, is the hallmark of democracy — everyone working together and making decisions as equals.
In order for the democratic process to work, employees must have the appropriate information to make sound decisions. They need to have all the facts before they can actually determine the best course of action. Deciding how and when to share this information is up to the leader. She is the best person to judge who needs to know what.
This stage depends on just how participative the style of leadership actually is. In some cases, the manager may take into account the decisions proposed by her team but ultimately make the final choice herself. In others, the team may actually make the final decision as a group, fully democratizing the process. In either case, the manager should keep the team fully informed about how the decision will be made and what will happen as a result of it.
Additionally, there may be different levels involved in the decision-making process. For example, employees may be able to offer input at the early stages of an idea or strategy, while the later stages will depend on the independent choices of the leader or leadership team. Or, employees might be able to participate in the development of a strategy once leadership has established a plan or direction. In other instances, teams may be fully involved throughout the process.
Once the leader has taken into account the brainstorming and suggestions of the team or the team itself has made its choice, in the case of participative leadership, employees will generally also be responsible for carrying out those decisions by putting the plan into action. In other words, once a decision has been reached, it’s time to actually do the work to make it a reality.
How does participative leadership contribute to a more positive experience for everyone? Here are just some of the benefits of this style of leadership for managers, employees and the organization as a whole.
When employees are able to participate in the decision-making process, they feel like their voices are being heard. It also stands to reason that because employees know their opinions are valued, they will be more engaged with their work. This could also lead to better commitment and employee retention overall — because happy employees are less likely to leave.
When employees at different levels within a corporate or company structure have a hand in shaping the directions of the organization, there’s less emphasis on hierarchy and more focus on collaboration. That doesn’t mean these hierarchical structures don’t exist; they just may not seem as important as they do elsewhere. Moreover, because of the spirit of collaboration, competition is lessened as well — people are working together as a team for the sake of the bigger picture, rather than trying to beat out one another to the top.
Organizations that are democratic know the work they need to do and the overall strategy behind it because they had a hand in shaping it. That means that when a manager is sick or goes on vacation, the work doesn’t stop, and team members can keep moving forward. In other words, you won’t lose time or momentum.
Several minds are generally better than one. When teams are brainstorming together and coming up with new ideas, they’re likely to develop and produce unique, creative insights that could benefit the whole organization.
Under participative leadership, teams tend to thrive. Employees are collaborating and committed to achieving the same purpose and goals. They feel supported and empowered. They recognize that their ideas are valued and that action is taking place as a result. They, in turn, value and appreciate their leaders.
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